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Archive for September, 2010

Positive Signs Not Enough

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 27, 2010

Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Broncos certainly tried their best to honor Kenny McKinley as they battled the Colts in an upset bid.  I have to admit that Denver actually played much better yesterday than I thought they would against league juggernaut Indianapolis.  The defense in particular was outstanding considering the amount of time they had to spend on a short field following turnovers.  Sure, Peyton Manning threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns, but it was a quiet 300 yard day if there is such a thing.  The Broncos were able to get good pressure on Manning most of the day and he had to work to get his completions.  The Broncos completely shut down the Colts’ running game, holding Joseph Addai to just 29 yards on 13 carries.  Considering the positions the defense ended up in, I think they did an outstanding job against Manning and company.

Offensively, Kyle Orton passed for a whopping 476 yards, the second highest single game total in Broncos history (trivia question: can you name who is number one on the list? You might think it’s easy but you would be wrong, answer below).  Jabar Gaffney caught 12 balls for 140 yards, his second game with more than 10 receptions as a Bronco.  Brandon Lloyd made several big plays, finishing with 169 yards on six catches.  All told, nine players caught a pass from Orton in the game, so he did a terrific job distributing the ball.  No one with a sane mind can question that Orton has a complete command of this offense.  His 48-yard touchdown pass to Lloyd was a thing a beauty.  The problem for the Broncos was the running game.  It was obvious that they really missed Knowshon Moreno, who sat out with an injured hamstring.  New acquisition Laurence Maroney rushed for just 24 yards on 12 carries (although he did have a 28 yard catch), while Correll Buckhalter rushed for 12 yards on four carries.

It is easy to point the finger at the backs, especially after former Bronco Peyton Hillis ran all over the powerful Ravens defense to the tune of 140 yards yesterday, but running the football is about more than the backs.  The Broncos still have offensive line problems, owing mostly to the fact that three rookies are starting along the line these days and the fact that All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady is still not quite healthy from his offseason knee injury suffered back in April.  Running the ball requires cohesiveness from the backs and from the line, and right now the Broncos don’t have it from either.  I say it every week, but Denver is going to have to figure out how to run the football, or it won’t matter what the passing game does.

The Broncos also have the same issues in the red zone as last season (and it seems for five seasons or so).  All told, the Broncos had four trips in the red zone and came away with six points on two field goals.  The Broncos turned it over on downs twice, once in the second quarter when an apparent Maroney touchdown was reversed by replay and again in the fourth quarter when and Orton and Lloyd weren’t on the same page on a 4th and 3 play.  It goes without saying that good teams execute in the red zone and convert their touchdown opportunities.  This goes back to the lack of a running game, because yesterday the Colts defense had the luxury of defending the pass when backed up in the red zone and didn’t really have to worry about Denver’s non-existent running game.

It’s not a secret that you need to plan on scoring at least 24 points to even have a chance of beating the Colts.  Manning is just too good for even the league’s best defenses to hold down for an entire game.  The Broncos moved the ball well enough offensively to be able to compete with the Colts, but red zone failure and an inability to establish a running game doomed them in the end.  Still, they had plenty of chances to make plays, and the fact they were even in the game against one of the league’s elite teams in the fourth quarter was a shock to many.  Obviously there are no moral victories in the NFL, and certainly the Broncos are in an early hole with a 1-2 record and difficult schedule ahead, but there are positive signs from the passing game and the defense.  I think the Chiefs’ 3-0 start in the AFC West won’t last, so the Broncos still have plenty of opportunity to be a player in the AFC West before the year is over.  If Denver can solve the running game problem, things could get much better for the orange and blue in the coming weeks.

Trivia answer: Jake Plummer, who threw for 499 yards against the Falcons in 2004.

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Week 3 Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 24, 2010

Last Week: 9-7   Season: 18-14

The good news is we’re over .500.   This in spite of several big 2-0 surprises (Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Chicago) and several 0-2 duds from teams I expect (still) to make the playoffs, like Dallas and Minnesota.  In any case, on to week 3:

– Patriots over Bills: Do I really have to explain this?  Buffalo is beyond terrible.  The idea of Ryan Fitzpatrick starting on the road in one of the toughest places to win is just ghastly.  The Patriots may end finding themselves in a dogfight for the division this season, but they can beat the Bills with a blindfolded Tom Brady.

– Ravens over Browns: This one wins out over the New England game for my eliminator pool selection this week, but either would be a gimmie.  Baltimore’s defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown yet this year.  The problem last week was Joe Flacco’s four interceptions.  The Browns’ defense isn’t anywhere near Cincinnati’s in terms of talent or really anything, so the question here is margin of victory for the Ravens.  Let’s just move on to the more competitive games.

– Bengals over Panthers: Cincinnati picked up a monster division win last week, and now they get a game against an 0-2 Panthers team that is led by Jimmy Clausen, making his first career start.  I like Clausen, who I have in my keeper league as my QB of the future, but he’s going to have plenty of growing pains.  Ochocinco and T.O. are the headline makers of the Bengals, but Cincy’s defense is pretty good too.  They’re going to make it a long afternoon for Clausen.

– Buccaneers over Steelers: UPSET ALERT.  We missed on our upset pick last week, but just barely as the 49ers almost beat New Orleans on Monday night.  Pittsburgh is starting Charlie Batch at quarterback, and while he has filled in well before, I think the Steelers are due for a letdown after last week’s amazing performance at Tennessee.  Tampa Bay is easily the biggest surprise among the 2-0 teams, and while I’m not sure they can keep it up all season, I think their defense has played exceptionally well.  The game is blacked out in Tampa due to a non-sellout (their second of the year already), and there may be more terrible towels in the seats than Bucs fans, but I think Tampa Bay has something to prove.  I smell the upset in a low scoring game (think 10-7).

– Texans over Cowboys: This is the unquestioned game of the week for me, and that’s I am mad the game won’t be shown in my area.  I think Dallas is a desperate team that is in big trouble, and has been the biggest underachiever of the season.  The pressure on Dallas in this game is enormous considering their division title last year.  Houston meanwhile has jumped out to a 2-0 start and is finally showing the potential we’ve expected of them for the past five years or so.  A 3-0 start would make the Houston fans absolutely delirious, and more importantly it would keep the Texans ahead of the Colts in the AFC South.  Tony Romo should be motivated, but his counterpart Matt Schaub is playing as well as anyone in the league.  I think Dallas is the more desperate team, but that won’t be enough to offset the momentum Houston has right now.  Did I mention the Texans are the home team?  Houston wins a thriller and initiates the Wade Phillips watch in Dallas.

– Colts over Broncos: Denver is in huge trouble even though they’re at home.  Not only are they dealing with Kenny McKinley’s death, but they also will not have Knowshon Moreno (hamstring injury) or right tackle Ryan Harris.  Champ Bailey is also questionable, so the Broncos are beat up in more ways than one.  Peyton Manning always shreds the Broncos, so this doesn’t bode well for the orange and blue, especially without Moreno to help control the clock offensively.  Even if Laurence Maroney is healthy enough to play, I don’t see how the Broncos are going to be able to match Manning and the high powered Colts’ offense.  As much I would like to pick the upset here, I just can’t.  In fact the realistic side of me says this won’t even be close.  Given the Broncos’ upcoming schedule after this game (Titans, Ravens, Jets), this could go in a downward spiral quickly.

– Eagles over Jaguars: I think the Eagles absolutely made the right call in going with Michael Vick over Kevin Kolb.  I said all along that Kolb wasn’t anything other than average.  Vick on the other hand is maybe the hottest QB in the league right now, and he is playing every bit as well as he did five years ago.  With the weapons around him, I think the Eagles offense can be extremely dangerous with Vick at the controls.  The problem is the offensive line, but that shouldn’t be too much of an issue this game given the Jaguars’ mediocrity defensively.  The Jaguars need Maurice Jones-Drew to start playing to his capability, but even if he does, it won’t be enough in this game.  The Eagles will score too many points for Jacksonville to keep up.

– Titans over Giants: Both teams were awful last week, so something has to give.  I think both teams will actually be able to run the ball well, for Chris Johnson surely won’t be held under 35 yards two weeks in the row.  Ahmad Bradshaw meanwhile has taken over as the Giants’ featured back, and I think that bodes well for them given that he ran much better than Brandon Jacobs all of last season, even in short yardage and goal line situations.  I think the Titans defense is better than New York’s, and that is the reason I pick Tennessee to win this game on the road.

– 49ers over Chiefs: This is the game that I’m stuck with in the Fox early slot instead of Cowboys-Texans.  While the Chiefs are a major surprise at 2-0, I still think they have major question marks, not the least of which is Matt Cassel, who has been nothing short of awful in the first two games.  I still don’t understand why Thomas Jones is getting twice as many carries as Jamaal Charles, and I think this is the game where it could burn the Chiefs.  San Francisco has a very underrated defense, and they showed last week the can compete with the likes of the Saints.  I think Mike Singletary’s crew is very hungry for a win, and Arrhowhead isn’t what it used to be.  I still think the 49ers are the NFC West’s best team, and for that reason they can’t start 0-3.

– Raiders over Cardinals: Arizona is the home team, but it’s obvious things aren’t the same without Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin.  Derek Anderson is horrible, and is so woefully inaccurate that even though he has targeted Larry Fitzgerald 27 times, Fitz only has 10 receptions on the season.  This week Fitzgerald will be matched up against Nnamdi Asomugha, who is the best cornerback in the league outside of Darrelle Revis.  Arizona must run the ball to have a chance here, but I think the Raiders actually will run the ball better in this one, given that we’ve seen a resurgence from Darren McFadden.  I like the Raiders on the road in this dud affair.

– Chargers over Seahawks: This one could be interesting, but I think Philip Rivers and company broke out of their inexplicable offensive funk last week, and Seattle’s defense did not exactly play well last week in Denver.   The Seahawks can’t afford to have the interceptions that Matt Hasselbeck threw last week if they want to have any shot to win this game.  I still think Seattle’s overall talent leaves a lot to be desired, and the Chargers are just better, regardless of whether Ryan Mathews is healthy or not.

– Redskins over Rams: Washington suffered a heartbreaking loss last week, and they should rebound nicely against one of the worst teams in the league.  Sam Bradford is playing well, and the Rams have a semblance of an offensive attack, but their defense is well, not good.  I sense a huge game for Donovan McNabb and the entire Redskins offense.  I especially like the prospect of Santana Moss against suspect corners on the fast track of the dome.  St. Louis will not go 0-16, but this is not going to be one of their wins.

– Vikings over Lions: Minnesota will finally get a win, although this still may not be pretty.  Detroit played the Vikings close in both meetings last year, so it might not be a blowout, but it seems like a given that Minnesota’s defense will be able to harass Shaun Hill for several sacks and turnovers.  I think Adrian Peterson will run wild and Brett Favre should make enough plays to lead the Vikings to the victory.  Detroit will be improved before the year is over thanks in large part to the talent of Jahvid Best at tailback, but they must wait for Matthew Stafford’s return to make any real progress.

– Falcons over Saints: Call me crazy on this upset selection given that the game is in the Superdome, but I really like the look of the Falcons’ high powered offense right now.  Matt Ryan is playing exceptionally well, and I think Roddy White is in line for a monster game, especially given that the Saints gave up some big plays to San Francisco last week.  Drew Brees and company will play well themselves, but something tells me the Saints are really going to miss Reggie Bush.  I also think the Saints could be affected by the short week following the Monday night game.  This should be a wildly entertaining game (another reason I’m disgusted to be stuck with SF-KC on Fox), and I think the Falcons will pull off the upset.

– Packers over Bears: I have to admit that Jay Cutler played a terrific game last week in Dallas, and that is a large reason why the Bears upset the Cowboys.  I think Chicago’s defense is also playing surprisingly well, and it will be interesting to see how they stack up against Aaron Rodgers and the high powered Packers’ offense.  I think Green Bay is playing the best of any team in the league right now, especially Rodgers and the passing game.  I think they will be able to score more than enough points to win this game, and I think it might be enough for the game to not be that close.  Green Bay certainly has a top three defensive unit, and I will be really surprised if Cutler doesn’t throw multiple picks on Sunday night against it.

– Dolphins over Jets: Miami’s home opener will be a big one on Monday night.  The Jets are coming off a huge win over New England, but won’t have Darrelle Revis in this one.  This is excellent news for Brandon Marshall, who should now be in line for a monster game.  I also think that as well as Miami’s defense has played in the first two games, Mark Sanchez could be in big trouble.  I still think the Jets’ passing game won’t really take off until Santonio Holmes returns from suspension in week five.  Miami played well in both meetings against the Jets last year, and I don’t see that changing here.  I like Miami at home in the Monday night atmosphere.

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R.I.P. Kenny McKinley

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 20, 2010

I was going to do a recap of Denver’s 31-14 win over Seattle, but that seems woefully inappropriate given the news that Broncos’ receiver Kenny McKinley was found dead this afternoon at his home.  The details of what happened are in the linked story courtesy of The Denver Post.

What we have here is a scenario that is all too familiar for Broncos fans.  McKinley is the third active Broncos player to die in the past four years (Darrent Williams, Damien Nash).  It is obviously a shock when anyone dies young, and unfair is one of the words that comes to mind.  McKinley seemed to have a bright future ahead of him.  He finished his college career at South Carolina as the school’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards.  Just two weeks ago he was back on campus for the Gamecocks’ rivalry game with Georgia, and seemed to be in good spirits according to Steve Spurrier.  He was beset by injuries during his time with the Broncos, suffering a knee injury in Philadelphia last year after seeing action in eight games as a rookie, and then ending up on injured reserve again this past August.  McKinley was a key contributor on special teams last season as a kick returner.

We shouldn’t need events like this to remind us that football is just a game.  We all get caught up in the success or failure of our teams, and sometimes it’s easy to forget how trivial the results are when compared to life itself.  Sports are ultimately about the people who play them, not the games themselves.  In any case it seems that tragedy has once again hit the Denver Broncos organization.  Our thoughts and prayers are with Kenny McKinley’s family and his teammates and coaches.

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Week 2 Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 17, 2010

Last Week: 9-7

Clearly we need to pick up the pace here to achieve our goal of 70 percent correct picks for the season.  My biggest misfires were the Chargers (who looked lost and confused at Arrowhead), the Cowboys (why didn’t they just take a knee on the last play of the half?), and the Colts (the run defense looks scary bad without Bob Sanders).  My biggest wins?  The Ravens (who looked just as dominant defensively as they ever have), the Patriots (Wes Welker is back with a vengeance), and the Saints (who did a phenomenal job shutting down the Vikings high powered offense).  I’m sure other surprises lie in store for us in week two.

Packers over Bills: This should be a popular eliminator selection this week.  While I am gambling and saving Green Bay for later in the season, this should be a gimmie win for the Packers.  They looked every bit like a Super Bowl contender last week against the Eagles, and even with the season ending injury to Ryan Grant, Brandon Jackson should more than be able to pick up the slack.  Aaron Rodgers and his receivers should have a field day carving up the Bills secondary, and I sense major problems for Trent Edwards and the Bills offense against what might be the best defense in the NFC.  Buffalo just isn’t very good, and a trip to Lambeau is the last thing they need right now.

Vikings over Dolphins: Minnesota has had plenty of time to regroup after their season opening loss to the defending champs.  It should give Brett Favre more time to get healthy and reacquainted with NFL game speed, and also give him more time to get a rhythm with Bernard Berrian and his other receivers in the absence of Sidney Rice.  Adrian Peterson should be able to run wild on the Metrodome carpet, and the Vikings defense should be in line for a few turnovers as they usually are at home.  Miami won in Buffalo last week, but they didn’t exactly look impressive in doing so.  Brandon Marshall will get his yards, but in the end lack of a running game will doom the Dolphins.

Patriots over Jets: I know the Jets are the trendy pick here, but the more I think about it the more I think they will find themselves in a 0-2 hole.  Darrelle Revis is obviously excellent, and I think he will contain Randy Moss, but I like Wes Welker in the slot against Antonio Cromartie or whoever the Jets have matching up there.  I also think Mark Sanchez struggled mightily against the Ravens, and I think he will do the same against New England.  The Patriots defense did what they had to do against a high powered offense last week, and I think the Jets have fewer weapons than the Bengals do.  The Jets offense could be explosive when Santonio Holmes returns from suspension in week five but until then they will have to make do with what they have.  The running game is only so so, and that won’t help them play keep away from Tom Brady.  I like New England on the road.

Ravens over Bengals: Cincinnati doesn’t seem like they should be an 0-2 team, but I just don’t like this matchup for them right now.  Baltimore’s brick wall defense is just as stingy as ever, and I think the Ravens’ secondary is up for the challenge of T.O. and Ochocinco.  Baltimore is also highly motivated knowing the Bengals swept them last season.  I think Joe Flacco has enough weapons at his disposal now that even if Cincinnati does score some points, the Ravens will be able to match them.  This will be a very physical game that should go down to the fourth quarter, but I think Baltimore has another road win in them.

Chiefs over Browns: I’m still not sure if Kansas City’s win last week had more to do with their young talent, or if it was more a case of San Diego losing the game.  I do think the Chiefs are crazy if they make Jamaal Charles anything other than the featured back.  He has got to get more than 11 carries, and for the life of me I have no clue why Coach Todd Haley is so obsessed with Thomas Jones when Charles is light years ahead of him.  Matt Cassel did not play well last week and I would say the Chiefs won in spite of him more than because of him last week, but I think the Browns secondary is bad enough that he might be able to find Dwayne Bowe for some big plays.  While I think the Browns will be able to run the ball and control the game, their chances are zero if Jake Delhomme doesn’t play.  In any case, a hunch says the Chiefs get the road win.

Titans over Steelers: Pittsburgh’s defense looked very impressive last week in their win over the Falcons, keeping it low scoring until Rashard Mendenhall broke through with his big run in overtime.  They will need a similar effort this week on the road, because you know the Titans’ defense is going to tee off on poor Dennis Dixon.  I don’t think the Steelers will have near the success running the ball this week, and I really don’t like Dixon’s ability to make big plays in the passing game.  I think Chris Johnson is a given to hit 100 yards rushing every week, plus Vince Young continues to show an ability to be a leader for the Tennessee offense.  This could be close, but I think Tennessee wins it.

Texans over Redskins: What we have here is two teams that were expected to be 0-1 but are both 1-0 heading into this one.  I would be really surprised if Arian Foster duplicated his monster performance from last week, but I think the Texans will be able to move the ball effectively.  Andre Johnson was fairly quiet last week given Foster’s eye popping effort, but I think he is in line for a big game on Sunday.  The biggest key for Houston is to avoid a letdown following arguably their biggest win in franchise history.  Washington showed an ability to stop the run last week, but offensively they were very inconsistent.  They are going to have to score more than 13 points to win this game, but unless Santana Moss can make some big plays in the passing game I don’t see that happening.

Chargers over Jaguars: San Diego perhaps was the biggest disappointment of week one, and they are really missing holdouts Vincent Jackson and Ryan McNeil.  What’s embarrassing for the Chargers is this game will be blacked out in San Diego due to a non-sellout.  Still, I think the home confines should be enough for Philip Rivers to get back to looking like his old self, but the Chargers will need Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles to show a lot more in the running game than they did Monday night.  Jacksonville got an impressive three TD performance from David Garrard last week, but long term they will need Maurice Jones-Drew to be the focal point of the offense.  I think Jones-Drew will get his yards, but the Chargers are desperate knowing they can’t afford to start 0-2.  While this could be interesting, I think San Diego finds a way at home.

– Broncos over Seahawks: Seattle blew out the 49ers last week, but it still somewhat puzzling how they did it.  They didn’t run the ball particularly well, and while Matt Hasselbeck threw two touchdown passes it wasn’t as if he lit up the sky with big plays.  Their defense was outstanding, but it will be interesting to see if they can keep that up on the road.  I thought the Broncos played reasonably well despite the loss last week, and I like their ability offensively at home in this one. They should be able to run more effectively and set up the play action for Kyle Orton.  As long as Denver cleans up the turnovers and penalties they will be fine.  Denver has not lost a home opener since 1999, and I don’t see that changing on Sunday.

– Raiders over Rams: Another game that will be blacked out in the home market, but that’s fairly typical these days in Oakland.  The Raiders really looked awful last week in Tennessee, but it’s not as if the Rams looked much better in their loss to Arizona.  Sam Bradford threw an astounding 55 passes last week, so the Rams at some point are going to have to get Steven Jackson the ball more.  The Raiders still on paper should be improved over last season, so if that is the case they will find a way to win this one at home.  This pick really has more to do with St. Louis being just as bad than anything else, so really I’m picking the home team by default.  Nothing would surprise me though when it comes to the Raiders.

– Cowboys over Bears: Dallas clearly laid an egg in Washington between their stupidity on the last play of the first half and their holding penalty that wiped out what would have been the game winning touchdown.  With nowhere to go but up, they should be delighted to see Jay Cutler in their home opener.  The Bears were very fortunate not to lose at home to Detroit thanks to one of the worst calls in NFL history (it was technically correct by the rule, but in this case common sense should have won the day).  Cutler’s propensity for interceptions plus the pressure he’s sure to get from DeMarcus Ware is a very dangerous combo for the Chicago offense.  I also think Tony Romo gets it together and the Cowboys will be able to run the football.  This one may not be close.

– Eagles over Lions: Michael Vick will get the start at QB for the Eagles, which as we saw last week may be an improvement over Kevin Kolb.  Philadelphia has enough weapons to score points, and they should be able to get it done considering the Lions will be without Matthew Stafford and will resort to starting Shaun Hill.  I do think Detroit has a lot of good young talent, and they will win some games before the season is over, but I don’t see this being one of them.  The Eagles will be highly motivated coming off a home loss and this a club that won’t stand for being 0-2.  In fact I am taking this for my eliminator selection this week, which means I am probably dooming the Eagles.

– Falcons over Cardinals: While I think this should be a relatively easy win for the Falcons, I’m not sure I agree with most who say this is a guaranteed blowout.  I do think the Falcons will pile up points with Roddy White having a monster game, but I also think the Cardinals will put up their share of points.  There is too much talent in the receiving core with Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston for Derek Anderson to not find them eventually.  Beanie Wells is also a talented back, so I think Arizona has the potential to score points in this one as well.  I do like the Falcons to win the game, but this could be one of the more entertaining contests of the week.

– Panthers over Buccaneers: This has the potential to be one of the more boring games of the week.  I don’t think either team is very good, although I think the Panthers should have a strong running game with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.  If Steve Smith shows up and plays to his capability, Carolina should be able to score more than enough points to win this one at home.  Tampa Bay escaped last week against a terrible Browns team, but they can’t expect to do that on the road.

– Colts over Giants: The Sunday nighter is a big one because of the Manning brothers playing against each other, but to me the more interesting storyline is the Colts’ run defense.  I am highly tempted to move Ahmad Bradshaw to the top of my list of fantasy tailback options simply on the basis that he is facing Indy this week.  While I don’t think the Colts will allow him 250 yards, I think the Giants will run effectively enough to make this game interesting.  I think in the end, it’s very difficult to pick against Peyton Manning at home, especially when the Colts are motivated after a loss.  I think Peyton finds Dallas Clark early and often, and the Colts win a high scoring game.

– 49ers over Saints: Upset alert in the Monday night game.  The Saints are the defending champs and looking very impressive defensively in their season opening win over the Vikings, but as defending champs they are going to get everyone’s best effort this season.  San Francisco was humiliated last week, to the point where Mike Singletary called a team meeting on a tarmac once the plane landed in San Francisco.  I think the Monday night atmosphere combined with the defending champs coming to town is a recipe that will give the 49ers a lot of juice for this contest.  San Francisco’s defense is better than people realize, and I think Frank Gore runs enough to give the Niners the upset victory.

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Evaluating the Maroney trade

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 15, 2010

I’ve been saying ever since the end of last season that biggest priority for the Broncos offense needs to be running the football consistently.  For the talk I hear about the quarterback position or the receivers or a dislike for Josh McDaniels’ way of doing things, people keep ignoring the most basic thing that makes any offense successful at any level of football.  There were too many times last year (and before as well under Mike Shanahan) where the Broncos were simply not effective in short yardage or goal to go situations.  The Broncos have made attempts to address this situation, making a point to draft several offensive lineman in addition to using a first round pick on Knowshon Moreno last season.  I still think Moreno has the tools to be an elite back once he can stay healthy, and I like Correll Buckhalter’s ability to be a change of pace back. The Broncos this week added another back to mix in Laurence Maroney, and it might be a low risk move that pays off.

In acquiring Maroney, the Broncos sent to New England what essentially amounts as a sack of footballs in exchange.  All Denver had to surrender was a fourth round pick in 2011, and the Broncos received a sixth round pick in addition to Maroney.  Not a bad move to acquire a player who was a first round pick in 2007, and at times has shown an ability to be an elusive back.  Maroney had five 100-yard games as a rookie in 2007, which is exactly five more than Moreno had as a rookie last year for the Broncos.  Maroney wasn’t as effective last season, and battled a few injuries, and eventually fell out of favor with Bill Belichick.  The Broncos are hoping that reuniting Maroney with Josh McDaniels, who was Maroney’s offensive coordinator with the Patriots in 2007 and 2008, will result in a revival of sorts for the beleaguered running back.

The question is how will this affect the Broncos’ backfield?  It will be interesting to see how the Broncos work Maroney into the mix given that they currently rely heavily on Moreno and Buckhalter.  Moreno ran for 60 yards last week and looked healed from his preseason hamstring injury.  Buckhalter was less effective, with perhaps the lowlight of the day being his lost fumble in the second quarter that negated a Broncos drive where they had eaten up eight minutes of the clock.  I have a feeling the Broncos will not rush Maroney into the mix, but as the season goes along it wouldn’t surprise me if he was as involved as the other two.  Plenty of teams are operating on a running back by committee system (which makes fantasy decisions very stressful on game day), so a three man mix in the backfield wouldn’t be unprecedented.

It seems at least in the short that Maroney was brought in to be a backup.  Considering the Broncos invested a first round pick in Moreno, I would think his status as the starter is safe.  However, it wouldn’t surprise me if Buckhalter’s untimely fumble last week played some role in this.  While I think at the end of year Moreno will still be the team leader in rushing, but it could end up that Maroney has his share of yards as well.  The bottom line is this is a very low risk move for the Broncos being that they gave up virtually nothing.  even if Maroney provides depth as a backup, it could be enough to help the Broncos be able to run the football, which more than anything else will allow them to win more games.

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Week 1 Loss Doesn’t Mean Disaster

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 13, 2010

First of all, let’s get the Tebow garbage out of the way.  He had 2 carries for 2 yards.  He was a complete non-factor.  He is not the story of this game, contrary to seemingly every other recap of this game that I have read.  I realize he was back in Florida, but come on people, let’s talk about the folks that actually were a factor in this game.

-For whatever reason, David Garrard always has great games against the Broncos.  He tied a career high with three touchdown passes and completed 76 percent of his throws.  He didn’t make a single mistake during the contest.  Naturally this was because I benched him in my fantasy keeper league this week.  The Broncos pass defense for whatever reason couldn’t contain Garrard or get much pressure on him.

– On the flip side the Broncos’ run defense actually did a decent job against Maurice Jones-Drew, who rushed for 98 yards but needed 23 carries to get it.  The Broncos also stuffed him on a big 4th and 1 play in the third quarter.

– Offensively the Broncos showed a lot of positive flashes.  Kyle Orton threw for 295 yards and a touchdown.  There was an Eddie Royal sighting with 8 catches, which means he has already achieved more than 20 percent of his reception total from last year.  Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney and Daniel Graham all came through with big receptions.  Unfortunately for the Broncos Orton threw an interception at the worst time in the final minute, but other than that play the passing game looked solid for the most part.

– The running game still needs some improvement.  Knowshon Moreno actually played fairly well considering he missed the entire preseason with a hamstring injury, rushing for 60 yards on 15 carries with a touchdown.  Correll Buckhalter however only finished with 15 yards and had a costly lost fumble that ended a drive where the Broncos had controlled the ball for more than eight minutes.  I will acknowledge that some patience is needed with two rookies (J.D Walton and Zane Beadles) starting in the middle of the offensive line.  The bottom line though is the Broncos must run the football with more consistency if they want any opportunity to win in this league.

Overall I thought the Broncos actually showed well on the road with the exception of the final score.  Of course the turnovers need to be cleaned up and so do the penalties (the Broncos had seven of them for 70 yards, including two personal foul penalties on Jacksonville’s go ahead touchdown drive).  It remains to be seen how good the Jaguars will be this season, but it looks as though the Broncos may not be the last team that David Garrard has a good game against this year.  Give the Jaguars some credit, they made some defensive plays when they had to (Aaron Kampman’s sack of Orton on Denver’s first drive was very critical, knocking Denver out of scoring range), and they also were able to move the football effectively.  In many ways this can be looked at as a game the Jaguars won as much as or more than a game the Broncos lost.

I think ultimately this is a game Denver could have won, but a week one loss does not necessarily mean disaster.  It does mean the Broncos have less margin for error next week when they host Seattle, but it’s not like a 1-0 start has done them much good in recent years.  I think this has the look of a team that has potential to improve as they progress through the season, especially with so much youth along the offensive line.  The Broncos have some talent in place, and I’m certainly not ready to give up on them after one game. They certainly didn’t embarrass themselves the way the CU Buffs did in California, and I think there is something this team can build on.  Are they a playoff team?  Probably not right now, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be in the race by the end of the season.

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Week 1 & Season Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 9, 2010

Well clearly the first week of the NFL season somehow snuck up on me.  Here we go for a quick hit preview.  Think of it as quick hit thoughts on each team, a gut reaction if you will.  Teams are listed in predicted order of finish.  An asterisk indicates a wild card team.  Playoff predictions as well as selections for the week one matchups can be found at the end. 

AFC EAST:

1. New England Patriots (11-5) – I know better than to pick against them.  Tom Brady is in a contract year and there is a new infusion of youth.  Bottom line is this team wins more often than they don’t.  This is the safe pick.

2. New York Jets (10-6)* – The Jets made a lot of sexy additions to build off last season’s AFC title game appearance.  It’ll be interesting to see if Mark Sanchez can continue to improve and be an offensive leader. 

3. Miami Dolphins (9-7) – Miami’s offense got better with Brandon Marshall.  The question is will his attitude cost them?  Defense isn’t quite up to par with other division contenders.

4. Buffalo Bills (3-13) – Lack of offensive weapons and a mediocre defense equal a terrible combination.  I hope C.J. Spiller’s confidence isn’t destroyed running behind a terrible offensive line.

AFC NORTH:

1. Baltimore Ravens (13-3) – I don’t see why everyone is so down on the Ravens defense.  It’s the same guys that have dominated for years.  Now they have a scary good offense to go with it.  Look out AFC.

2. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) – Cincy is here more because of their defense than because of the offense with all the egos.  I still somehow think T.O. and Ochocinco will co-exist and Carson Palmer will have a bounce back season, but they will miss the playoffs by a hair.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8) – I somehow feel like I know this is wrong, but I don’t like their prospects in the four games without Ben Roethlisberger and their defense is aging.  If Rashard Mendenhall can’t stay healthy they’re done.

4. Cleveland Browns (4-12) – Jake Delhomme is way past his prime.  There is a complete lack of talent at virtually every position.  They’d better hope they can groom Colt McCoy in time to start next season.

AFC SOUTH:

1. Indianapolis Colts (14-2) – Come on, do you really think I’m foolish enough to pick against Peyton Manning?  He has all the old weapons at this disposal and the Colts are nearly unbeatable indoors. 

2. Houston Texans (11-5)* – It seems like this my annual surprise pick, but this time I think they’ll finally get into the playoffs.  There is too much talent on both sides of the ball for them not to.  If they’re 8-8 again this year, Gary Kubiak should be in trouble.

3. Tennessee Titans (8-8) – Chris Johnson is amazing, but he can’t do it all by himself.  The Titans are the epitome of a class organization, but they don’t quite have the goods to be a playoff team this year. 

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) – The Jaguars have Maurice Jones-Drew and, well, ummmm….  Jack Del Rio will be gone after this season.

AFC WEST:

1. San Diego Chargers (9-7) – Yes, this division will be mediocre enough that the Chargers can win it with this record.  They need to get Vincent Jackson and their other holdouts back in short order.  Fortunately Philip Rivers and their running game can carry them.

2. Denver Broncos (8-8) – I don’t know what to expect from my home team.  Frankly anything between 6-10 and 10-6 wouldn’t surprise me.  We’ll go in the middle.  They’ve already been beset by injuries and the schedule is very rocky.  Kyle Orton will have a very good season, but if the running game can’t get healthy, it won’t matter if Orton plays well.

3. Oakland Raiders (6-10) – The Raiders believe Jason Campbell is the answer at quarterback.  I still have reservations as long as this team is owned by Al Davis.  That said, they should be improved over last season.

4. Kansas City Chiefs (5-11) – The running game should be very solid with Jamaal Charles leading the way, but I’m still not a Matt Cassel fan.  Plus the defense doesn’t appear as though it’s going to be very good.

NFC EAST:

1. Dallas Cowboys (12-4) – This could be a huge season for the Cowboys since they are hosting the Super Bowl this year.  They’ll have enough to at least win the division, for it seems as though Tony Romo has finally figured out how to win.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) – Eagles fans may quickly regret running Donovan McNabb out of town.  Kevin Kolb is good, but he’s no McNabb.  Brian Westbrook could be missed even more. 

3. Washington Redskins (7-9) – Mike Shanahan will very much be in transition mode during his first season.  McNabb is an upgrade at QB, but do any of his running backs have anything left in the tank?  Plus the Albert Haynesworth saga has the making of a dark cloud over the defense.

4. New York Giants (6-10) – The Giants fell to Earth last season and don’t seem to have done much to change their personnel.  I like Ahmad Bradshaw in the running game and Eli Manning is capable, but something still doesn’t seem right.

NFC NORTH

1. Green Bay Packers (14-2) – I sense a big breakout year for the pack, highlighted by Aaron Rodgers who is without question the real deal.  The offensive talent is solid at every position and the defense overall might be the best in the league.

2. Minnesota Vikings (11-5)* – The Vikings are still a playoff team, but it remains to be seen if Brett Favre can stay upright for the entire season.  The loss of Sidney Rice to injury is significant, but the running game and defense are still among the best in the league.  If Tarvaris Jackson comes in, the record obviously goes south quickly.

3. Chicago Bears (6-10) – I sense major disaster with the Jay Cutler-Mike Martz marriage offensively.  Given Cutler’s league leading 26 picks last year, an offensive designed on throwing all the time doesn’t seem like a good idea.  The running game is only so so, but the defense may keep them in games. 

4. Detroit Lions (5-11) – Detroit seems like they are improving, but it still appears 2011 is their target.  They are developing young talent, and they may exceed expectations.  If fans are patient, the team is moving in the right direction.

NFC SOUTH

1. New Orleans Saints (12-4) – The Saints appear to have all the pieces necessary to have a shot at repeating.  The same cast of characters as last year can’t be bad thing in any way.  The only question is how will they handle the pressure of repeating?

2. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)* – I think the Falcons will return to the playoffs this year.  Matt Ryan is an excellent quarterback and the running game and receivers are in place.  This team is capable of winning the division if breaks go their way.

3. Carolina Panthers (7-9) – The Panthers are in transition with Matt Moore at QB.  I think it’s almost certain Jimmy Clausen will start before the year is over.  The defense is not as good as it was but the running game will help win them some games. 

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12) – A young Josh Freeman still has a lot to learn about playing quarterback in the NFL, but he has talent.  This is a young team that simply doesn’t look like it’s going to be very good. 

NFC WEST

1. San Francisco 49ers (9-7) – Both west divisions will be highly mediocre, but San Francisco looks like they might finally be able to break through.  There is immense talent at the skills positions on offense, the question is if Alex Smith will finally be ready to take advantage of all of it.  The defense is as solid as they come. 

2. Arizona Cardinals (8-8) – They lost a lot of talent (Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, and several defensive players).  Derek Anderson is no Kurt Warner, but he still has talent around him.  Still, a drop off is inevitable.

3. Seattle Seahawks (6-10) – Pete Carroll is inheriting an odd team.  Matt Hasselbeck has been very injury prone at QB, and frankly the overall talent level leaves a lot to be desired.  It’s hard to respect Carroll after he left USC in such a mess.

4. St. Louis Rams (4-12) – Sam Bradford is the real deal.  The problem is he has no help.  Steven Jackson is still a terrific back, but he’s bound to get worn down if he’s asked to do too much.  The defense is very young. 

Playoff Picks:

AFC:

Wild Card games: (6) Texans over (3) Patriots, (5) Jets over (4) Chargers

Divisional games: (1) Colts over (6) Texans, (2) Ravens over (5) Jets

AFC Championship: (2) Ravens over (1) Colts – Baltimore’s defense figures out Manning

NFC

Wild Card games: (3) Saints over (6) Falcons, (5) Vikings over (4) 49ers

Divisional games: (1) Packers over (5) Vikings, (2) Cowboys over (3) Saints

NFC Championship Game: (1) Packers over (2) Cowboys – Lambeau advantage too much for Cowboys

Super Bowl Pick: Ravens over Packers.  I like Baltimore’s complete team, they have the passing game, the running game, and the defense.  This is in every way a complete team, and I like them to take the whole thing this year.

Now for quickie week one selections:

– Saints over Vikings: This is a fantastic way to kick off the season tonight.  I like the Saints largely because of the emotion of the home crowd, but this will be very close and entertaining.

– Dolphins over Bills: Miami’s new weapons are enough to beat a struggling Bills team in a tight division contest

– Bears over Lions:  An upset by the visitors wouldn’t surprise me, but a hunch says the host Bears pull this off.

– Titans over Raiders: Complete mismatch, Tennessee rolls at home behind Chris Johnson

– Patriots over Bengals: I almost went with the visitors here in a mini-upset, but picking against New England is usually a bad idea in Foxboro

– Panthers over Giants: This is a coin flip game.  I don’t think either team is very good, but I’ll go with the Panthers in a mini-upset

– Falcons over Steelers: Dennis Dixon is under center for the Steelers.  This presents a huge problem.  Matt Ryan and Roddy White lead Atlanta to the road win.

– Buccaneers over Browns: My sympathies if you’re stuck with the dud game of the week.  Tampa Bay wins a boring game at home.

– Broncos over Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew will get his yards, but I think Kyle Orton is in line for a nice year.  This one won’t be pretty either, but I think Denver takes it.

– Colts over Texans: I do think Houston is line for a breakthrough season, but I decided I’m not picking against Indy unless they give me a compelling reason to do so

– Cardinals over Rams: Arizona may be down this year, but they’ll have enough to beat one of the worst teams in the league

– Packers over Eagles: Aaron Rodgers begins what should be an outstanding season.  I think Kevin Kolb will struggle in his real action as the starting QB

– 49ers over Seahawks: Seattle has one of the loudest crowds in the league, but I think the Niners’ running game will carry the day

– Cowboys over Redskins: Washington will be fired up for Mike Shanahan’s first game, but the Cowboys are much better. 

– Ravens over Jets: I think the Jets will be good, but as you saw above I think Baltimore is winning the Super Bowl.  They are going to open with a bang.

– Chargers over Chiefs: Arrowhead hasn’t hosted a Monday night game in years so it will be rocking, but the Chargers will want to show they are still the class of division. 

 

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Ubaldo the Magnificent

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 7, 2010

Photo courtesy Matt York - Associated Press

I will admit right up front that I am biased, but I don’t think there has been any question who the best pitcher in Major League Baseball has been this season.  I am aware that C.C. Sabathia has posted more wins, Adam Wainwright has a better ERA, and two other pitchers have duplicated Jimenez’ feat of a no hitter while yet two others exceeded it with a perfect game this season, but Jimenez has done something no one thought would ever be possible.  He has managed to be a true, legitimate staff ace while pitching at altitude and in the bandbox of Coors Field.  Even with the humidor, people still discount the numbers of Rockies’ hitters on account of Coors Field.  While I think this is absurd given that there are numerous ballparks that generate more offense than Coors, I will turn the national pundits’ argument back on themselves and say that pitching numbers in Denver should be rewarded when they are even remotely good.  In the case of Ubaldo Jimenez, his numbers should be labeled as absolutely spectacular.

To say that Ubaldo Jimenez is the best pitcher in Rockies history is like saying Manute Bol would be the tallest person at his high school reunion. No disrespect intended to Jeff Francis or the likes of Pedro Astacio, but Jimenez is so clearly the best pitcher to wear a Rockies uniform that no one else is even worthy of being in the discussion.  Today Jimenez posted a franchise best 18th victory of the season.  He still has roughly five starts remaining this season to try and notch 20 wins.  He would already be there if not for awful run support in several losses this season (Jimenez has been on the wrong end of a 2-0 loss to the Dodgers, a 1-0 loss to the Mets, and a 2-1 loss to the Giants).  Over a two month stretch during April and May, Jimenez was as dominant as pitcher in the history of the game.  At the end of May, Jimenez posted a 0.78 ERA and a 10-1 record.  Jimenez had given up just seven runs over his first 11 starts.  Sure the Rockies were 27-24 after two months, but take out the games Jimenez started, and they were just 16-23 in the other games.  It’s safe to say that he was carrying the club on his back.

In many ways he still is.  It seems as though every time Jimenez takes the mound, he is doing so the day after a Rockies’ loss.  Given the lack of run support he has often been saddled with, he has had to win games by himself much of the time.  It seems ironic today then, that Jimenez picked up a win on a day when he wasn’t his best.  It should say something that I say he wasn’t at his best when he struck out eight hitters on a first place Reds team over six innings.  The bottom line with Jimenez is that even when he is “not at his best” he is still usually better than whoever is starting for the other team that day.  When he is at his best, he is virtually unhittable.

I am always the eternal optimist, and as such when I look at the standings and see that the Rockies find themselves just four and a half games out of the playoffs in spite of a topsy turvy season, I think they can make up that deficit.  Ubaldo Jimenez is a big reason, because I know the Rockies have a legitimate shot to win no matter what lineup he is facing.  If the Rockies can manage to sneak into the playoffs, Jimenez is exactly the type of staff ace that can swing a short playoff series in a hurry.  He could be to opponents what Cliff Lee was to the Rockies in the division series last year.  I know the national media with their east coast bias will probably give the Cy Young to Wainwright or Josh Johnson or someone that’s on national tv every week, but it would be a real crime not to give it to Jimenez.  Something tells me if he pitched for the Mets he would be a lock.

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Bad news for Broncos backfield

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 3, 2010

The Broncos received some really bad news today regarding their running game. Adam Schefter reports that LenDale White is out for the season after tearing his Achilles. This is devastating for the Broncos, who are still waiting for Knowshon Moreno to get healthy and just getting Correll Buckhalter back. White was going to miss the first four games of the season due to suspension anyway, but now the Broncos won’t have him at all this year. White was expected to be the goal line back and help shore up some of the team’s red zone deficiencies. Now the Broncos will have to rely on Moreno and Buckhalter to carry the running game this year.

This is why I hate preseason. White got hurt in a completely meaningless scrimmage on artificial turf. Of course injuries can happen at any time, but this one occurred in a game that didn’t count and now the Broncos are without one of their key signings for the year.

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Football is back baby!

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 2, 2010

Today all feels right with the world again.  Tonight is the start of the college football season.  After a month of useless NFL preseason scrimmages, we finally get to see some real football that means something.  I am actually somewhat disappointed that I am stuck watching the Broncos and Vikings backups tonight when I could be watching actual college football.   At least I’ll be able to do that on Saturday, and we will be treated to an excellent slate of games during the first weekend.  I will be at Invesco Field at Mile High for the Rocky Mountain Showdown between Colorado and Colorado State, but I will also be keeping an eye on a number of other great games.  In fact I have Monday night blocked out to watch what should be a dandy between Boise State and Virginia Tech.  If Boise State has any hope of crashing the national championship party, they must win this game, a tough task to be sure in Washington D.C., which makes this a de facto home game for the Hokies.  As always there are a lot of college storylines to keep an eye on:

The last season before realignment: This will be the final season for Utah and Brigham Young in the Mountain West Conference.  The former is headed to the Pac 10 next year and the latter is going independent in football while joining the West Coast Conference in basketball.  The MWC will fill their shoes in 2011 with Boise State, Nevada and Fresno State (all leaving the WAC).  This will also be Nebraska’s final salvo in the Big 12 (headed to the Big 10), and probably the last Big 12 hurrah for Colorado as well (the Buffaloes are trying to head to the Pac 10 in 2011 but may have to wait until 2012 for financial reasons).  Will this year be the final time we see the storied rivalries of Utah-BYU and CU-Nebraska?  I would say Utah and BYU would be nuts to not schedule each other in a non-conference game after this year, but something tells me this might be last we see of the Huskers and Buffs for awhile.  While the changes coming in 2011 are not as bad as they could have been, it will still be significant, so enjoy this year’s conference setup while it still lasts.

New Coaches: I have to admit that while I am rapidly starting to despise Lane Kiffin, I am still curious to see how he’ll do at USC.  He inherits the mess left behind by Pete Carroll, including a hefty probation.  They still have top 15 talent so they should be fun to watch.  I hope that Tennessee rebounds from the mess that Kiffin left there after just one year.  A large part of me hopes that they succeed while USC falters, because I think Kiffin did not treat Tennessee fairly in any way.  We also of course have Brian Kelly taking over at Notre Dame, and again I think he did his former program (Cincinnati) absolutely wrong.  I don’t blame him for taking the ND job, but he should have at least stuck around at Cincy to coach them in the Sugar Bowl last year against Florida.  They way he left his players hung out to dry before that game is absolutely despicable.  For that reason, it makes Notre Dame very difficult to root for as long as Kelly is the coach.  Here’s hoping Butch Jones can keep things going in Cincy for those fans.

Other notable coaching changes include new Big 12 coaches in Kansas (Turner Gill) and Texas Tech (Tommy Tuberville).  As much as I hate KU being a Mizzou alum, I think Gill is a great coach and will make KU really good in a few years.  It will also be weird to see Florida State without Bobby Bowden roaming the sideline.  Bowden was forced out, ahem, excuse me, retired, and now Jimbo Fisher takes over the program.  Other coaching changes in BCS conferences took place at Virginia (Mike London now in) and Vanderbilt (Robbie Caldwell).

Who will win the Heisman Trophy: While it is not stated so, it is obvious that only quarterbacks, running backs and receivers are eligible for this award.  Otherwise, Ndamukong Suh should have been a landslide winner last year.  When I saw him person last season I was blown away by his ability to dominate the line and control the game defensively for Nebraska.  Alabama running back Mark Ingram won it last year, but he will have a hard time repeating this year because it’s almost impossible to win it twice.  He will also miss the first part of the season due to injury.  This year’s race appears to be as wide open as ever but the favorite in my mind is Jake Locker, quarterback for Washington.  My darkhorse candidate is Noel Devine, running back for West Virginia.  Another possibility?  Boise State QB Kellen Moore.  This would be the ultimate sign of respect for non-BCS programs if he were to win it.

Who will win it all? The trendy pick seems to be Alabama to repeat, and they are certainly up there with the top contenders.  I think Florida is always dangerous in the SEC as well.  I think Ohio State appears to be easily the best team in the Big 10 on paper (no disrespect intended to Iowa, but last year was a clear fluke and they’re going to fall hard), while of course Texas and Oklahoma are always there in the Big 12.  I also think Nebraska is a darkhorse there to make a challenge for the BCS berth.  Oregon and Virginia Tech are the best teams in their respective conferences, but I don’t see either challenging for the national title.  Boise State and TCU certainly believe their names should be in the hat, and if either or both go undefeated like last year, they will have a strong case.  In the end I think Oklahoma is going to have a bounce back season from last year’s injury riddled campaign, and I think the Sooners will square off against Ohio State in the title game.  I think Boise State loses to Virginia Tech this weekend, and that will knock them out.  I think TCU could go undefeated, but if they do the BCS will once again work against them.  In the end I’m a Big 12 guy, so I’m taking Oklahoma to win it all.

College football is back, enjoy the season folks!

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